I was walking from a parking lot just up the road to a center where I was having a meeting recently. It was bitterly cold, a fierce wind blew more than gusted, and even bundled up, I was freezing. I usually love winter weather. After years of living in the Sahel, I appreciate… even relish… actually being cold. I know; it’s a bit strange. Yet as I was hoofing it that morning, I yearned for a transporter that would allow me to instantly teleport back to the oft sweltering heat of West Africa.
The silver lining?
Brilliant arctic blue colored the skies, cotton ball clouds dotted that wide expanse, and the sun radiated a dazzling, blinding glow that bounced everywhere, momentarily blinding as it reflected off the snow covering the neighborhood. It was a beautiful winter morning! Living in Quebec, sunlight is a commodity to be treasured during the long hours of seasonal darkness.
I noticed something that morning. Sunlight is powerful. Incredibly powerful, in fact. That morning, it was well below 0’F (-18’C) and I had refused to look at the wind chill because I just really didn’t want to know. Yet sunshine was still melting snow. Frozen patches of ice had small streams of water flowing toward storm drains, even surrounded by all of that frigidity. It didn’t seem physically possible.
In that moment, the thought crossed my mind that this is not only true of sunshine, but also of “sonshine.” Isn’t that what we have, literally just days ago, celebrated and commemorated? That the light has come? And this light of the world, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and His message of love, grace, justice and mercy softens and then melts even the iciest, most hostile hearts.
Anyone else ever find it interesting – even revealing, perhaps – that in the English language, sun and son are homonyms?
Light not only has the power to warm, but it also has the power to reveal. When I open the door and flip on the light to one of my children’s bedrooms, that light quickly discloses whether they’ve kept their room picked up or whether I might be better to don a hazmat suit before entering. God, similarly, shines a light into my innermost being, exposing good… and bad.
Not long after we had returned from Africa, we heard that one of the vendors from whom we often purchased souvenirs, thank you cards and other assorted trinkets had passed away. He had a handicap – in a wheelchair, I’m assuming, as a result of polio – and as a special educator, I think I know why I was initially drawn to him. I’d see him almost every time we went to the little vegetable market. He’d often wheel up to our Land Cruiser and try and talk with my children… enticing them with some of the hand crafted toys he sold… while I bartered for tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots and onions. He’d often give me “inside info” as to the real price of the produce – always an improvement on the expat price. He didn’t really speak any of the languages I knew… or was learning… I didn’t speak his language. But when it was time for business – to buy thank you cards or gifts, he was my go-to man. I don’t know how many years we’d attempted to exchange pleasantries. So I was not only shocked but heart-broken when I heard the sketchy details of his death a few months after our departure: that somehow his wheelchair flipped over and no one noticed him lying helpless in a ditch until he was so weak and sick that the minimal care available at the local hospital could not save him. And just like that, he was gone. How could no one have noticed?
Lately on Facebook, I’ve seen a couple of different videos circulating (at least one was a social experiment) where some young teen stands out on a busy city street, in the freezing cold – shivering, without a coat and holding a sign asking for help. Person after person walks by, eyes fixed on some far off destination. No one stops to help; only a few even glance his direction. The exception was a homeless man who shed his own coat and then wrapped the boy in it. Again, how can people just pass by others so obviously in need? Why is it so easy to assume that “someone else” will deal with the problem instead of becoming part of the solution?
I was listening to my 13 year old daughter, a verified people-watcher, share with her sisters the other day. She was talking about how often times she’ll see someone and think, “Poor lady. She’s really not very attractive,” or “That guy has the most awkward features.” But then, she said, “I’m trying to teach myself to look more deeply at the person. When I do, I always find something lovely in them. And, the more I try, the more quickly God shows me other people’s attractive qualities.”
Her words were powerful – like warming, revealing sunlight. So often, I’m determined to choose to love others, often in spite of who or what they are… as I’ve been known to say to my kids, “warts and all.” When that is my focus, however, I simply strive to look past the unattractive and in so concentrating, I never actually see the other person. I never ask God to show me how one created in His image also reveals Him. True, my daughter, at her present age and maturity, focuses primarily on physical attributes and features – but the key is that she isn’t trying to look past the unpleasant or the ugly. She acknowledges its presence, but then looks deeper to really see and appreciate the beautiful that is there.
As 2017 begins, I’m praying that God engraves deep upon my own heart this lesson learned through the example of my young one. It isn’t enough to overlook what I deem disagreeable in others.
One way I can courageously live the Gospel includes asking God to reveal winsomeness in each person I meet, not only freeing me to love others but also allowing me to better know Him through the people He has so lovingly created… in His image.
When was the last time God showed you something about His nature by allowing you to see it in one of the people He created in His own image?
What is one of your goals for 2017?